In the South of Italy
For this meeting I traveled to beautiful Puglia, or the heel of the Italian boot. A region famous for its fresh produce and where millions of olives have been ripening under the Italian sun for centuries. It is still early and it seems as if the world is still asleep. I am in a small Italian village near Lecce, at the invitation of Arianne van Cantasole.
I meet her at the place where she grew up, which she left behind for years and where she has now returned through many wanderings. As I walk into the beautiful old olive grove, I see that Arianne is already at work. It's only half past seven in the morning, but at least ten people are already busy pruning trees, mowing grass and repairing machines. Arianne gives me a warm welcome to the family business. Her great-grandfather planted the very first olive tree here in 1858. No matter how early it is, Arianne is beaming from ear to ear and immediately starts talking about the family business with great passion. Her dogs Bruno and Max, a black and brown shepherd, walk faithfully with their owner as we enter the olive grove.
Cantasole means a lot to her, she calls it her baby. She therefore does everything she can to take good care of her 'child', to be directly involved everywhere and, above all, to ensure that she grows bigger and makes the world more beautiful. Arianne has a special story, because it is anything but obvious that she is here now. As we walk through the olive grove in the morning sun, she tells me about her childhood. She grew up as a girl among the olive trees: "I lived with my father, mother and two sisters in Lecce city. My father went here every day to work. We spent the weekends here with our family and it was fantastic, but as I got older I really wanted to get out of here..."
An interesting industry
Arianne tells me that as a teenager she started to feel more and more resentful against her father's olive farm. After graduating from high school, she decides to leave for Rome to study Economics and Business. She wants to go out into the wider world and studies in Utrecht, works in Geneva and is doing a master's degree in Grenoble, France. When she has to write her thesis for her master 'Innovation and Intrepreneurship', she returns to her Italian homeland, Lecce. And that's when she first becomes interested in her father's olives. She discovers that the olive oil trade is an interesting industry where much can be improved in the field of technology, sustainability and quality and immediately sees opportunities in her father's company.
When she graduates in 2015, she has become so interested in olive oil that she wants to develop further. She enrolls in a sommelier training to learn even more about olive oil. She is doing a course in which she has to taste no fewer than 900 different oils in two weeks. During the course she comes into contact with two inspiring ladies from Brazil and Greece, who produce their own olive oil. Two women with whom she keeps in touch and whom she is very fond of, as a woman in a man's world. When she has completed the training, she will be one hundred percent sure: she will stay in Lecce and join the family business. And she has a clear goal: to make the company more efficient, greener, more sustainable and bigger.
The world's first zero-waste olive press
She now owns Cantasole together with her father and is the manager of the company. The biggest change compared to a few years ago is that her father sold his olives to olive oil producers, and that the company now makes its own olive oil. Arianne puts sixteen employees to work every day, they work all year round, during all seasons. She is also involved in innovations within the company and the sale of the oils. Arianne tells me that she is always looking for ways to improve the company. She sets high standards for herself, her team and the level at which the company produces, but she has no choice, because she wants everything to go perfectly.
But completely dependent on nature, she also has to deal with adversity. Arianne, she is currently researching a deadly bacterium, which has been spreading like crazy under olive trees in Puglia since 2015 and can affect the olives. Because this is a major problem for the entire region, she is working with researchers to find ways in which trees can defy this bacteria in the future, because they refuse to use chemical pesticides. She wants to do good for the environment and burden the world as little as possible: she proudly says that she has invested in a zero-waste olive press: it runs one hundred percent on green electricity that is produced from waste that is released during pressing. Arianne is proud to be a pioneer in this field and is pleased that Cantasole is becoming greener and more sustainable.
The olive grove in Puglia, Italy, has 30,000 trees and Arianne is on the olive grove daily to ensure that all trees continue to thrive. Taking good care of your trees is crucial for a good harvest, she says. Arianne only goes for the best quality olives, which means that she only uses 10-15% of all olives for her olive oils. That is not much, but according to Arianne, quality always takes precedence over quantity. Only by using the very best olives, she can produce the most delicious olive oil.
While we stop at a beautiful old olive tree, Arianne tells me where the name Cantasole comes from: "My father told me that picking the olives used to be done by women, early in the morning. And that's what the women did singing. I thought that was such a beautiful image, all those women together, picking and singing in this olive grove. This is how Cantasole came into being: canta means singing and sole means sun. We no longer pick manually, but the name of the company always reminds me of how we started."
Getting married in the olive grove
In the middle of the field is the old family farm, dating from the twelfth century. It is a place where Arianne used to come as a child. Arianne is proud to continue the family tradition in olives. She finds it important not to do her work from behind a computer somewhere in an office, but to be present in the olive grove. That's why she's there every morning around 7:30 am, six days a week. We sit down with a coffee and talk about the time she studied in the Netherlands. She had a great time and also met the love of her life in Utrecht: the man she is now engaged to. He's not in the olive oil business, he works as a lawyer. "I don't go to the olive grove on Sunday mornings especially for him. That morning we are always together. But he's proud of what I'm doing and we're getting married this summer. We're throwing a big party, here, in the olive grove!"
It becomes clear to me that the family business has undergone significant innovation since Arianne got involved. In the beginning it was difficult not to be seen as 'the daughter of', but thanks to her expertise and knowledge, Arianne has brought about change and she is now at the helm. She dares to take her place and make choices, no matter how difficult that is sometimes. Then it's time to meet Arianne's mainstay, her father Fabricio. A cheerful Italian with white hair, brightly colored glasses that, judging by his tanned skin, can still be found a lot among the olive trees. Arianne is happy to discuss her ideas for the company with her father and Fabricio agrees. He sometimes still cannot believe that his daughter has returned to Lecce and feels so much love for the profession. He tells me proudly that he never dreamed that one of his three daughters would take over his company.
An unknown culture
Arianne and her father let me taste the different olive oils they produce in the family farm. The dogs Bruno and Max are waiting to see what I'm going to think. The oils are all gems and now that I know how they are made, I can't wait to experience the different flavors. The oils are called Biancolilla, Peranzana and Coratina. The names alone are beautiful! The latter is wonderfully spicy and I immediately understand that this is Arianne's favorite olive oil. According to Arianne, the daily consumption of olive oil is still an unknown culture for many Europeans and she thinks that is a shame. That is why she organizes tastings to surprise people with combinations of olive oil and snacks, intended to inspire them to get started at home.
Arianne passionately tells me what happens when you combine olive oil with different vegetables, fish and meat, and she doesn't speak out about the health benefits either. "Olive oil for your heart, your organs, but also your hair, for example. It is a natural source of vitamin E and it is healthy for everyone, young and old. I want to tell as many people as possible how important it is to use olive oil and of course let as many people as possible taste our oil." Arianne, you convinced me of your special family story and that oil, I'll take it home!